During the autumn and winter months of 2015, I had the opportunity to listen to many different artists from various backgrounds giving presentations about their works. These talks provided me with such valuable information in terms of how professional artists and fresh graduates deal with hardships, which might arise within their practice from time to time. Although I observed an abundance of different attitudes towards art-making within this period of talks, only one artist’s journey deeply resonated with me, and helped me out of a creative block I had recently been experiencing. In the following paragraphs I will elaborate how German artist Jorn Ebner’s practice, fuelled by frustrations, proved useful to him, as well as to myself.
Jorn Ebner, Portable Garden, intervention in London, photography: OLIVIA PLENDER, 2002
Jorn Ebner is a new media artist currently based in Berlin. Within his artistic practice, Ebner mostly interacts with the digital platform through the tradition of drawing. He uses the cyber space as a blank page and explores the limits of drawing within this space. At the beginning of his presentation, we encounter images of a very excited young art student at Central Saint Martins, who is out on the streets of London, celebrating art as a social activity, doing public performances full of quirk and curiosity. As time goes by and Ebner becomes a practicing artist, he begins to struggle to meet the expectations of the clients and the art market, but most importantly the limitations of his chosen medium, the digital media, which he is so passionate about. The first wave of frustration hits Ebner when he takes out a commission for a digital artwork in the form of a website. At the end of this commission process, however, his creative end result is found to be unsuitable for the public consumption, especially because it contains flashing elements which are not suitable for viewing by epileptic people. He smiles and cracks a joke while he walks us through this process on the slides. I, on the other hand, am filled with the harrowing realisation that I am soon to become a practicing artist. My heart starts racing, and for the moment I feel altogether inadequate because I don’t posses any of the skills, which are required to survive within the ever so tightly structured art world.
Ebner then begins talking about the changes within Internet technologies and explains how many of his web-based works from early 00’s are no longer available as a result of browser updates. He also adds that the upkeep of artworks on the Internet is so costly, that he can’t afford to preserve his works for future generations. All these elements finally snowball, and push Ebner into to a place, in which he stays in a state of constant frustration. In an effort to express his negative feelings, he sets up two web blogs entitled ‘New Sisyphus’ and ‘Call For Revolution’ and posts daily sound recordings alongside drawings for an entire year. These abstract and expressive works feels so fresh and imaginative; they beautifully capture Ebner’s state of mind at the time. Does this not perfectly demonstrate that great ideas don’t always come from a pleasant place?
Jorn Ebner, excerpt from ‘New Sisyphus’, 2014
I felt a deep sympathy towards him upon witnessing his experience, as I began struggling with similar frustrations when I entered a new educational institution. I sensed that my creative practice almost came to a halt and I had to re-examine the reasons why I make art. Most of the time, conditions, which lead us to frustrations, are out of our control. This process required me to constantly re-negotiate my previous strategies, which was initially terrifying because I had to abandon the linguistic terms, which define me as an artist. Ebner felt the need to continue his practice by simply expressing his unhappiness to the best of his ability, rather than trying to change his practice entirely to fit into a certain norm.
When I look at Ebner, I see someone who wanted to pursue his passion but eventually became disheartened. Ebner only wants to make art, which is more or less every artist’s aim. He wishes to explore the medium he is so curious about, yet he is constantly let down by various factors during this process. In the time of distress caused by the demands of the art world, having a fluid artistic identity is all what is needed. All successful artists have a strong urge to move forward, and this is essentially achieved by retaining a self-questioning attitude. The most valuable lesson I learnt from any artist is the one Ebner demonstrated within his presentation. Being able to lift yourself up from the circumstances limiting you is a skill learnt only by being exposed to those circumstances. Sometimes this means to be drowning in frustration and discontent.